Merck seeks emergency pill clearance; South Africa registers 201 new cases

Merck seeks emergency pill clearance; South Africa registers 201 new cases
A Pfizer vaccine is prepared during an immunisation outreach programme in Cape Town on 2 October 2021. Health teams ramped up vaccination programmes as part of the National Vooma Vaccination Weekend initiative. (Photo: Gallo Images / Misha Jordaan)

South Africa registered 201 new Covid-19 cases, bringing the cumulative total to 2,912,346. A further 29 Covid-19-related deaths were reported, taking total official deaths to 88,346. A total of 19,242,116 people have been vaccinated.

Covid-19 global update

Molnupiravir moved a step closer to becoming the first oral antiviral treatment for Covid-19 as Merck and its partner Ridgeback Biotherapeutics sought emergency use authorisation for the pill in the US.

Restrictions were eased in parts of Asia as infection numbers slowed. Indonesia imposed a shorter quarantine period, while Thailand unveiled a roadmap to revive its tourism-reliant economy by gradually scrapping a mandatory quarantine for vaccinated visitors.

In Australia, Sydney started to emerge from a 15-week lockdown, with restaurants, pubs, gyms and retailers allowed to open to fully vaccinated patrons. Meanwhile, New Zealand extended a lockdown in the city of Auckland.

A study showed AstraZeneca’s antibody cocktail was effective at preventing people with mild or moderate Covid-19 infection from worsening.

Key developments:

Putin says he has a cold, not Covid

President Vladimir Putin said he has a cold and he isn’t suffering from Covid-19 after he was heard repeatedly coughing at a televised meeting with officials.

“Don’t worry, everything’s fine,” Putin told a videoconference on Monday with his Security Council, also shown on state television. “They do tests practically on a daily basis not only for Covid-19, but for all other infections and everything is OK.”

That unannounced broadcast followed an earlier one Putin held with officials to discuss agriculture, in which he was seen and heard coughing several times.

WHO panel recommends extra dose

An advisory panel of immunisation experts for the World Health Organization recommended that severe or moderately immunocompromised people should get an extra dose of Covid-19 vaccines. In the case of Sinopharm or Sinovac, an extra shot should be given to anyone 60 or above, said Alejandro Cravioto, chairman of the panel. Katherine O’Brien, director of immunisations at the WHO, said this is part of a normal schedule of vaccines, and the panel will consider the issue of boosters to the main immunisation schedules on 11 November.

Thailand to ease rules for vaccinated visitors

Thailand unveiled a roadmap to revive its tourism-reliant economy by gradually scrapping a mandatory quarantine for vaccinated visitors, joining a growing list of nations in making cross-border travel easier before the year-end holiday season.

Visitors from 10 low-risk countries including the US, China, Singapore, Germany and the UK won’t be required to undergo isolation on arrival starting on 1 November, Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-Ocha said in remarks prepared for an address to the nation on Monday. The list of travellers eligible for quarantine waiver will be further expanded in December, he said. The government would also consider allowing restaurants to resume the sale of alcohol, starting on 1 December.

Minks to get covid jabs in Finland

Finland’s fur industry is organising an inoculation program for minks in a bid to avert the extermination of the farmed animals as part of disease-prevention measures.

The country has about half a million doses of a domestically developed vaccine ready to be deployed this winter, enough to protect the entire population of breeding minks from Covid-19.

Minks are known to be particularly susceptible to the virus. Evidence from the Netherlands suggests the virus can jump from minks to humans.

Merck seeks emergency use authorisation for pill

Merck and Ridgeback Biotherapeutics applied to the US Food and Drug Administration for molnupiravir to be used to treat mild to moderate Covid-19 in adults at risk of developing a severe illness.

Submissions to regulatory authorities worldwide are expected in the coming months after interim analysis of clinical trial data found that it cut the risk of hospitalisation for such patients by half.

Indonesia cuts quarantine to five days

Indonesia is reopening its borders further, allowing visitors from more countries to enter and imposing a shorter quarantine period.

Southeast Asia’s largest economy will allow arrivals from 18 countries and reduce the minimum quarantine period to five days, from eight previously, said Luhut Panjaitan, coordinating minister for maritime and investment affairs who’s overseeing the pandemic response. He didn’t name any of the 18 countries.

Thailand mulls over further easing of restrictions

Thailand’s main virus task force will likely approve more relaxations of current restrictions on Thursday, according to Apisamai Srirangsan, spokeswoman for the Center for Covid-19 Situation Administration.

Official data show the improving outlook of the outbreak situation, which should allow for further easing, she said during a briefing on Monday.

AstraZeneca’s antibody drug effective in study

AstraZeneca’s antibody cocktail was effective at preventing people with mild or moderate Covid-19 infection from worsening, a study showed.

The cocktail halved the risk of developing severe illness or death compared with a placebo in a primary analysis of 822 patients who weren’t hospitalised, Astra said in a statement Monday. The trial took place in countries including the UK, Brazil, the US and Germany.

The results are another boon for the product after it was also found to be highly effective at preventing symptomatic Covid in high-risk people. The outcomes are a relief for Astra after an initial trial testing whether the cocktail could prevent symptomatic disease in people explicitly exposed to the virus failed in June. The company said last week it had applied for emergency-use authorisation in the US.

China expands booster-shot programme

China has expanded its booster-shot roll-out to more parts of the country, including the central provinces of Hubei and Anhui and the southern regions of Guangxi and Guangdong, according to local media. People aged 18 to 59 who received their second shot more than six months ago are eligible for a booster, local authorities said.

While China has vaccinated almost 80% of its population, a third dose could provide broader protection against variants, an official from China’s Center for Disease Control said at a press conference before last week’s national holiday.

New Zealand extends lockdowns, mandates vaccines

New Zealand has extended Auckland’s lockdown after reporting 35 new Covid-19 cases in the nation’s biggest city. Auckland will remain at Alert Level 3, meaning people can’t leave the city and should stay at home where possible, for at least another week. Restrictions in Waikato and Northland were extended until midnight, 14 October.

Vaccinations will be mandatory for most healthcare and education workers, including doctors, pharmacists and midwives as well as teachers and support staff, Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins said in a statement on Monday.

Fiji to reopen border to vaccinated tourists

Fiji will reopen to fully vaccinated international travellers from 1 December, ending more than 20 months of isolation that smashed the nation’s tourism industry.

US tourists will be the first allowed to travel to the popular South Pacific holiday destination. National carrier Fiji Airways will launch daily flights from Los Angeles to Nadi using new Airbus A350-900 aircraft, as well as five flights a week from San Francisco and two flights a week from Honolulu.

Fiji is on track to have its entire working population vaccinated by November. All arriving travellers must be fully vaccinated, present evidence of a 72-hour negative PCR test before boarding, and complete an additional rapid test at their pre-booked resort or hotel upon arrival before beginning their holiday quarantine-free.

Singapore keen to collaborate on travel

Singapore is keen to work with Australia, New Zealand and Japan on quarantine-free travel as the city-state pushes ahead with its strategy of living with Covid, Transport Minister S Iswaran said.

The island recently added more countries, including the US, the UK, France and Italy to its list of places fully vaccinated people can travel to quarantine-free, starting as early as 19 October. It kicked off a similar arrangement with Germany and Brunei last month.

“Certainly, Australia is a very important partner country for us. And there’s a great deal of connectivity between Australia and Singapore, and through Singapore to other parts of the world as well,” Iswaran said in an interview with Bloomberg Television on Monday.

“So we are quite keen to work with Australia, with New Zealand, with Japan and many other countries in the region, in terms of how we can move forward in this regard.”

Carrie Lam defends Hong Kong virus curbs

Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam defended Covid-19 travel restrictions that are frustrating global businesses, signalling the curbs will stay in place for the foreseeable future even as Singapore allows more quarantine-free travel.

In an interview with Bloomberg Television on Monday, Lam stressed that even a single fatality from Covid-19 “will cause a major concern in society” while saying she was “duty-bound to protect my people”.

Lam’s government has implemented a strict “Covid Zero” policy to reopen the border with China. That approach, which doesn’t tolerate any local infections, has increasingly strained the city’s longstanding reputation as a regional hub and an economic and financial gateway to China.

Sydney reopens after 15-week lockdown

Australia’s biggest city started to emerge from a 15-week lockdown on Monday, with patrons flocking to cafes, hair salons and retail stores. Some pubs, shops and gyms opened at a minute past midnight to take advantage of the new rules.

Life in Sydney has started to return to normal after the vaccination rate for people over the age of 16 hit 70%. In the initial reopening stage, non-essential retail stores, restaurants, pubs and gyms will be allowed to reopen to fully vaccinated patrons, with capacity limits. Further restrictions will be lifted in the next couple of weeks when the vaccination rate hits 80%, including allowing travel to regional areas.

New South Wales state recorded 496 new locally transmitted cases and eight deaths in the 24 hours to 8pm on Sunday. Neighboring Victoria, which remains under stricter stay-at-home orders as its vaccination rate lags behind New South Wales, reported 1,612 new local cases. DM

With assistance from Arys Aditya, Iain Marlow, Haslinda Amin, Kyunghee Park, Juliette Saly, Suzi Ring and Thomas Mulier.


"Information pertaining to Covid-19, vaccines, how to control the spread of the virus and potential treatments is ever-changing. Under the South African Disaster Management Act Regulation 11(5)(c) it is prohibited to publish information through any medium with the intention to deceive people on government measures to address COVID-19. We are therefore disabling the comment section on this article in order to protect both the commenting member and ourselves from potential liability. Should you have additional information that you think we should know, please email [email protected]"

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